Meet two extraordinary Ivy Cutters.When "Pomp and Circumstance Military March No. 1 in D Major” was first performed in London in 1901, the audience rose in a tumultuous double encore, the only time that's happened in the history of the London Promenade Concert.
The same thing happened in early May at noon and at 3:30 p.m. as nearly 500 students graduated in two separate ceremonies in the Southwell Complex on the main campus of Columbia College in Columbia, Mo. With Day, Evening, Online and Nationwide campuses, commencement has grown so large it requires two separate ceremonies.
Few were as deserving as Jason Jaramillo, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration from the college's Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., campus.
Jaramillo received three rounds of recognition: he was one of two Ivy Cutters, specially nominated and selected Columbia College Nationwide students brought in to cut the chain of ivy in a ceremony dating back to 1900; he received his bachelor's degree later that day graduating summa cum laude with a 3.9 GPA; and on Sunday, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army.
That Jaramillo made it this far is a miracle.
Jaramillo enlisted in the Army in June 2001. His first assignment was in South Korea where he met a woman who became his wife.
They had just married when he received orders to deploy to Iraq. This was in 2004, at the height of the insurgency and worse, he had to serve in Ramadi, al-Anbar Province, then one of the deadliest places on earth.
He made it through without a scratch.
He was redeployed to Tikrit. In 2007, Jaramillo was in the lead vehicle of a routine patrol. That vehicle ran over a completely hidden crush wire, which triggered an IED and knocked him unconscious. He wasn’t hit with shrapnel — "that armor does protect you," he says from Fort Leonard Wood, "but the concussion wave knocked me out." He spent two days in a hospital and received a Purple Heart.
In 2009, Jaramillo became a full-time student who got to spend time with his wife and new daughter at Fort Leonard Wood under the U.S. Army's Green to Gold Program, which allows active-duty soldiers to keep all their pay and entitlements at their current enlisted rank in order to complete a bachelor's degree. Jaramillo was also simultaneously enrolled in Army ROTC at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo., where he was named a distinguished military graduate for placing within the top 20 percent of all officer candidates in the nation. After receiving his commission, he will attend the Military Police (MP) Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Leonard Wood after which he will be assigned to the 16th MP Brigade (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Military policing would seem far more preferable to a family man than crush wires and IEDs – right?
"To tell you the truth, deployments don't bother me," he says. "I am willing to serve my country wherever they need me.
"It's been a full-time job, the greatest blessing that the Army has afforded me," he says of the Green to Gold Program. "Any soldier who gets a two-year block of family time without being deployed has to consider himself lucky.
"It seems like yesterday I was turning in my packet to be considered. Now here I am, with the light at the end of the tunnel, and I say to myself, 'Where did two years go?' I am happy and sad, because I got to spend all this valuable time with my family and got to be student, too." Jaramillo and his wife are expecting another child this fall.
The writer and community activist
Tara Laws, from the Hancock Field, New York campus, was the second Ivy Cutter.
Laws graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in English and minors in psychology and history. It took her seven years to graduate. She has a 4.0 GPA and also received summa cum laude honors.
"It wasn't easy," Laws says of the GPA, "but it was worth it. If I don't push myself to my personal best, I will never find out what I can achieve. Columbia College made it possible … the availability of night class, passionate professors and a dedicated staff made CC the perfect fit. Those ingredients together made my educational experience possible – along with my desire, drive and dedication to achieving a higher education."
Laws is a buyer for the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority – "everything from services to office supplies, diesel fuel, bus parts, uniforms for drivers, any anything to keep the company running," she says from Syracuse.
So why English?
"It's a passion of mine," says the self-described dork. "I like to read and read and read," and write, "particularly young adult fiction with an emphasis on the supernatural. Since I discovered how incredible it is to write a story, I just can't stop writing.
“I always write for me, things that entertain me and one of the things that I find really delightful to explore is the idea of love.”
Werewolves and vampires?
"I am entranced by the concept of the fallen angel," she says. "For me, it's all about the unexpected, falling in love, experiencing something bigger and more meaningful than oneself. It's all about believing in the possibilities, the could-happens."
Another passion is her commitment to others less fortunate: she has volunteered for the Syracuse Invitational Sport Horse Tournament, which benefits an equine hospital and a home for victims of abuse; the Prevention Network, which helps troubled individuals get back on their feet; care packages for the armed forces; and Meals for Haiti.
Laws says she was particularly moved by her work for Meals for Haiti. "It's humbling," she says. "One bag of food [rice gruel with added nutrients] becomes one quarter cup when prepared – and that's the daily ration for a family of six. When Americans eat a bowl of soup, one serving can be four cups!
"I have been very privileged and blessed in life," Laws says. "The least I can do to give back."
These are just two of the faces of Columbia College graduates who will help change the world.